It’s Monday so that means it’s time for Family Movie Night! In truth I would pick a Disney animated film every week for Family Movie Night as that is my first love. The problem is on Netflix the selection is somewhat sparse and that is the basis for this series. And I like to introduce my readers and viewers to films maybe outside of their glance.
But this week it seemed right to get back to Disney so we are going to talk about Walt Disney Animated Studios 21st animated classic Robin Hood. This is a very unique film for Disney for a lot of reasons. First, it was one of the first films to have very small involvement from Walt Disney who passed away in 1966. Second, during that time period Disney wasn’t very concerned with animated films and was more focused on live action and Disney World. This made the budget for Robin Hood extremely small. Just to paint a picture Sleeping Beauty nearly 20 years earlier cost $6 million to make. Robin Hood cost $1.5 million.
They were able to save so much money because of the Xerox technology which saved time and money on the ink and painting of cells. And they also heavily used a process called recycled animation where you take existing animation but change the characters to work with a new story.
It is this animation recycling that makes many hard core animation fans turn their noses up at Robin Hood.
Indeed, it is no animation masterpiece but what it lacks in artistry it makes up for in good writing and a pretty good story.
The third standout with Robin Hood is it was the first Disney films to feature an entire anthropomorphized cast. Or in other words the entire cast is animals that behave like humans. We had seen such characters like Honest Fox and Gideon in Pinocchio but there were always humans interacting with them. To this day Disney has not done many anthropomorphic films which has many fans very excited for the upcoming Zootopia in 2016!
The story of Robin Hood is kind of similar to Jungle Book in the sense that they take a classic story and add a comedic spin to it. Screenwriter Larry Clemmons and director Wolfgang Reitherman do a great job combining an English dry wit with action, comedy and American folk music! I think particularly the dialogue between Hiss and Prince John is right out of Monty Python. I think my favorite line is from Prince John when he says “You cowardly cobra! Procrastinating python! Aggravating asp! Ooh, you eel in snake’s clothing!” That’s just good writing!
The music by Roger Miller, Johnny Mercer and Floyd Huddleston shouldn’t work but it does. Aside from the corny love ballad the folksy music is very sweet and entertaining. The vocal performances are all up for the challenge including the great Phil Harris who basically plays Baloo again with even the design of Little John. Peter Ustinov is fantastic as Little John who is both vengeful and vindictive and completely insecure.
My only problem with Robin Hood is the third act featuring a jailbreak and Friar Tuck almost being hung on a hangman’s noose is such a tonal shift from the rest of the film. It feels like an entirely different movie. This is heightened by the ultra mopey yet effective song ‘not in Nottingham’. All of the sudden we go from a silly comedy to a tragedy. I kind of wish they had ended the film at the ‘Phony King of England” and then it would have probably gotten an A from me.
The recycled animation honestly doesn’t really bother me because they made a good film. There are other Disney films which are a lot more visually inventive and beautiful but the story has problems so I don’t really enjoy it (Hunchback of Notre Dame or Pocahontas for me). As they love to say in Pixar the success of an animated film always “comes down to the story”. And for the most part Robin Hood tells an engaging fun story. If they needed to use some recycled animation to get the job done it is no big deal to me.
Another small problem I have with Robin Hood is Maid Marian is a pretty undeveloped character but I feel like Marian is always that way in the Robin Hood films so it is hard to fault Disney too much on that front. It is just a reminder of the long period between Sleeping Beauty and Little Mermaid when Disney went without a leading strong female character. I also think we get a little bit more of the kids and their arrow into Marian’s yard than we might need.
The real cream for Robin Hood is in the action and the comedy especially when Prince John is on the screen. Those scenes make it one of the most rewatchable Disney films and it never fails to put a smile on my face.
What do you think of Robin Hood? Does the recycled animation bother you? Put in the comments section and let me know. Thanks so much!